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Dr Johanna Harris

Senior Lecturer


01392 725828

B.A. Hons, Class I (Syd.), MSt. with Distinction, DPhil. (Oxon.)

I arrived at Exeter in 2011, having taught at the Universities of Oxford and Geneva. My research focuses on the nonfictional prose of the early modern period, with a particular focus on letters and on the religious politics of the period. My research combines an interest in the stylistic qualities of early modern writing with historical research, and I particularly enjoy tracing the interconnections of lives and letters of the period. My work to date has focused in detail on well known writers such as Andrew Marvell and Thomas Traherne as well as lesser known writers such as Brilliana Harley and Lucy Robartes. I am currently working on two major editing projects for OUP: the correspondence of the nonconformist minister and prolific writer Richard Baxter, and a volume of the meditational prose and poetry of Traherne, and I have extensive experience with early modern manuscripts. My book on puritan epistolary communities, Godly Letters, is nearly complete (contracted to Palgrave Macmillan). Two further interpretive projects are at an earlier stage: a reception history of the book of Acts, and a history of the verse epistle.

Since 2011 I have co-ordinated the Exeter Care Homes Reading Project, a volunteer initiative that trains and sends English students into local care homes to read with residents. The project has garnered local and national press and TV coverage, and is supported by awards from the Annual Fund and the Headley Trust (Sainsbury Foundation). A spin-off initiative - the Intergenerational Project - was awarded £21K funding from the UPP Foundation in 2018-19. In 2015 I was awarded the 350th 'Points of Light' by Prime Minister David Cameron. Related to these initiatives, I am also interested in the ethical value of literature, particularly human dignity, and the role of literature in enhancing intergenerational cohesion.

Research interests

Early modern English literature (1500-1700) in relation to:

  • politics, literature and religion, especially puritanism across the post-Reformation, Civil War, and Restoration periods
  • letters and epistolary culture; classical epistolography
  • early modern women's writing
  • manuscript studies and editing
  • the ethical value of literature, books and reading

Key writers of interest:

  • Richard Baxter
  • John Foxe
  • Brilliana Harley (and other members of the Harley family)
  • Andrew Marvell
  • John Milton
  • Thomas Traherne

Literature in the community:

  • reading for 'life'; reading and old age; reading and the literature of 'dying well'; intergenerational communities

I would be willing to supervise in any of these areas. 

Research supervision

I would be happy to hear from anyone interested in working in the area/s of: early modern letters and epistolary culture; early modern prose; early modern religious politics; political and literary culture; early modern women's writing; archives and manuscript culture, as well as some strands of the medical humanities (particularly on literature and old age, and intergenerational communities and wellbeing).


Level 1: Rethinking Shakespeare (convenor); Beginnings: Literature pre-1800; The Poem

Level 2: Desire and Power, 1558-1603; Renaissance and Revolution, 1603-1688 (convenor)

Level 3: Shakespeare and Renaissance Tragedy; Literary Communities in Renaissance England (personally devised option); Reading for Life: Literature, Emotion and Community (personally devised option)

MA: Country, City, Court: Renaissance Literature 1558-1642 (convenor)

Modules taught


I grew up in the Blue Mountains, on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, where I attended Blaxland High School. From there I went to the University of Sydney where I studied for a Bachelor of Arts, with double Honours, in English and Ancient History. Across these two Honours dissertations (on Cicero's letters and then on Briliana Harley's letters) my future research interests in the classical humanist and Christian traditions of letters in the early modern period were forged.



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